Draconian and dysfunctional. . .

 

Bob—a frequent commenter and regular reader of the Radical—recently posted some interesting thoughts related to our ongoing conversation about scripted curricula and direct instruction over at his blog, called Tablet PC Education.

While his thoughts on scripted curricula continued to push my own thinking, it was his comments on teacher voice that I was most thankful for.  Consider this excerpt:

Education is arguably one of the largest unsaturated markets for mobile PC equipment and software. This market will be difficult to penetrate without knowing the language, logic, and values of teachers. In the long run, teachers, not administrators, boards of education, et al. control the effectiveness and efficiency of student learning, however anyone measures that outcome.

Tablet PC, Ultra-Mobile PC and other mobile PC education software developers and publishers, as well as equipment designers, engineers and manufacturers, both independents and corporates, large and small, should monitor Bill’s and similar blogs (such as Nancy Flanagan’s and Renee Moore’s). These blogs provide a basis for formulating industry focus group questions. They provide a different slant on classroom reality, openness, and barriers from questions generated through industry interests frequently used in market focus groups and industry conferences for educators.

These blogs represent an ongoing streaming sample (a cohort?) of thinking and commitments by opinion makers among (mostly public school) teachers that public policy makers listen to. A few of the million plus education blogs are written by skilled, thoughtful, accomplished, teachers. Some might call them “master teachers,” although I’d prefer a PC neutral descriptor, if I could think of one at the moment. Bill and colleagues arguably rank among the masters.

Bob’s standing on my soapbox right now, isn’t he?!

After all, I’ve been an advocate for involving teacher voice in policy conversations for years and years now because teachers possess a nuanced understanding of the classroom that is—quite simply—lost after a few years by those working beyond the classroom.  There is no substitute for first hand experience when trying to make decisions that are likely to effectively change public schools.

But teachers are often left on the sidelines when it comes to decision-making.  Rarely are systematic practices in place that seek out teacher voice, whether at the school, district, state or national level.  Instead, decisions are made by those who have “moved up” in the systems that run our schools.

Perhaps my favorite quote on this educational reality comes from Richard Elmore, who—in a 2003 issue of Educational Leadership—wrote:

Educators are subject to draconian and dysfunctional external accountability practices largely because they have failed to develop strong and binding professional norms about what constitutes high quality teaching practice and a supportive organizational environment.

In our society, educators are usually people to whom things happen, not people who make things happen. Bad policy happens in part because…we have deliberately chosen not to engage in powerful collaborative learning.

Why do you think that “draconian and dysfunctional” happens?  Why are we so reluctant as a nation to involve teachers in key educational decisions?  Is it an honest oversight brought on by the belief that teachers are uninterested in the work being done beyond the classroom?  Is it a nod to the reality that teachers often have little time to invest in work beyond the classroom because they are busy with the day-to-day realities of teaching?

Is it evidence of a sinister plot to hold teachers back and to deprofessionalize our work?  Is it because teachers have proven time and again that they don’t have the skill sets necessary to succeed as key decision makers, failing to effectively articulate or to translate what we know into action strategies beyond the classroom?

I’ve got my own ideas, but I’m more interested in what y’all have to say.  What is it that prevents teacher leadership from being fully embraced?